Conquering Kilimanjaro for a Cause

Conquering Kilimanjaro for a Cause

This month, 14-year-old Ryan Baki will embark on an incredible adventure: Hiking to the peak of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world—the 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. But he isn’t doing it just for the experience; it’s the linchpin of his efforts to raise money for a global charity that benefits people in third-world countries.

He arrived at this point through a convergence of several disparate life experiences. Here’s how they all came together.

Ryan, a ninth-grader on a math/science track at Moravian Academy, is also the son of Dr. Fayez Baki, owner of Keystone Dentistry in Bethlehem and Nazareth. Over the past few years, “I’ve been shadowing my dad at work, so I’ve been exposed to many kinds of procedures on people’s teeth. It’s really intriguing to see before-and-after views of his cosmetic work,” Ryan said. (Little wonder that he hopes to enter the dentistry field himself, someday.)

“Operation Smile will fix the condition for about $240 with a 45-minute surgery.”

Among his many activities at Moravian Academy is membership in the “Operation Smile” club, which promotes that international charity. The nonprofit medical service was founded in 1982 by Dr. William (Bill) P. Magee, Jr. and his wife Kathy after an overwhelming medical volunteer trip to the Philippines. Far more people needed reparative surgery for cleft palates or cleft lips than their small group could provide. That inspired the couple to create the organization that has since repaired well over 200,000 instances of the facial deformity in children and adults.

An unrepaired cleft palate can lead to a lifetime of issues with feeding, breathing, and social acceptance.  If you’ve never seen anyone with a cleft palate, it’s probably because, in the US, the condition is easily remedied shortly after birth. But people in poorer countries often lack the money or access needed for the procedure.

“Operation Smile will fix the condition for about $240 with a 45-minute surgery,” Fayez said, “and their doctors will teach local physicians the proper techniques.”

Both Ryan and Fayez are experienced mountaineers. “Last November, we hiked the trail to Machu Picchu [an ancient fortress city in Peru, at nearly 7,800 feet above sea level], and I also spent a day in the Swiss Alps with my uncle and cousin,” Ryan said. “His performance on Machu Picchu was impressive,” Fayez added. “Among our party of seven, he did the best of all.”

As Ryan neared ninth grade, talk turned to their next challenge – and they chose Mt. Kilimanjaro. “When we reviewed the ninth-grade curriculum, we agreed we should support a charity. Ryan wants to be a dentist, and when he learned about Operation Smile, he decided to use the trip to raise money for it,” Fayez said.

Ryan has set a lofty goal for his fundraising work. “Originally, I hoped to raise $5,900,” he said. “That’s the elevation of the mountain above sea level in meters. Right now [mid-October], we’ve raised over $7,000—so my new goal is $19,000, the height of the mountain in feet. I think I can hit that if I work hard enough.”

Fayez is quick to point out that he is underwriting the cost of their excursion himself. “We have also covered the costs of several fund-raising events,” he added. “It’s important for people to understand that every dollar Ryan raises will go directly to Operation Smile; none of those funds will be spent on our trip.”

Their trek will be arduous. “Technically, Kilimanjaro is not a difficult climb,” Fayez said. “It’s more about perseverance and dealing with the elements.

“About 45% of the people who attempt the climb turn back. They either try to go too quickly, or completely underestimate the impact temperatures and the elements will have on them.”

The Bakis will follow their guide, who will lead them along a set route with pre-determined stops.  Native porters will move ahead of the group, each one carrying about 50 pounds of supplies. “There are no buildings along the way,” Ryan said, “so we’ll be eating and sleeping in tents that the porters set up.”

During their seven-day trip, the Bakis (and the rest of their group) will pass through five distinct climate zones. Temperatures can be as balmy as 70°F at the base…and drop to a bone-chilling -20°F at the summit. The air’s oxygen level drops dramatically as you go higher; at the peak, it can be 50% less than at the base. In fact, the mountain creates its own weather, and climbers are cautioned that it’s completely unpredictable.   

The final leg of their journey will begin at midnight, so they can reach the summit before the sun rises too high. “At that elevation, it’s extremely cold, but the sun is very intense. We will stay there only about 30 minutes before starting back down,” Fayez said.

Father and son have set up their own training regimes to prep for the hike. Ryan spends an hour on cardio training at the gym every other day (bike and treadmill, for example) and plays soccer after school to build up his strength, endurance, and wind; Fayez concentrates on basic cardio – “I play a lot of sports,” he says, “mainly tennis,” and, when we spoke, he said he planned to ramp up his intensity as the climb draws nearer.

You can reward Ryan’s efforts by donating directly to his fund by visiting

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